Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Soup dumplings and fried rice (鼎泰豐)

Shrimp fried rice

Little known fact, the super famous soup dumpling joint 鼎泰豐 (Ding Tai Feng) was founded by a Hakka couple. Bonus fact on top of that, when they first started, they weren't even supposed to serve soup dumplings, they sold freaking cooking oil and ran a fried rice restaurant. It was only after someone made a random request did they start to make 小籠包, and well... it was history after that. They turned mega successful, and started pimping soup dumplings left and right until they couldn't make them fast enough. Baller status... achieved.

Soup dumlings

I've actually wanted to make a post about this place for the longest time, but you know what was stopping me? The fact that I felt they were so grossly overrated and overpriced that I could never bring myself to visit. Now before people flip out and plan out how to crucify me, hear me out. I actually think their soup dumplings are absolutely titillatingly good. There's no question their soup dumplings are the bees knees when it comes to pockets of carb stuffed with pork. The problem that exists is that people have come to make them out to be something their not. Foreigners will travel from all over Asia to try these things, and to be honest... they're not that phenomenally special. So when I say they're overrated, it's not because I think they're lacking, I just don't know if they're worth international acclaim. Problem two is kind of similar in that their pricing is absurd (for Taiwan). At 190 NT ($6) for a steamer of 10, they're more than 3x the going rate as other places. I realize in terms of quality, there's quite a gap, but come on... really? Fuck, if you're making me choose between 32 pockets of above average dumplings and 10 really good ones, I'm going value 10 times out of 10.

Soup dumpling

In all seriousness though, if you didn't make me pay for it myself, these are pretty much the greatest little treasures ever. Thinly skinned, bordering on transparency, grasping without puncturing is almost a thing of art. The pork is juicy beyond my abilities to describe, and the soup content is immeasurable with traditional soup spoons. Oh lordy, special... they are. Mmm, where am I going with this? I don't know. I want to hate them, I want to love them, I don't know what tell you. I just thought I'd write about the famous little soup dumpling place that everyone loves, and that I haven't visited for years.

Edit: I just realized I never talked about the quality of their fried rice, despite making a tangent about how they were originally a specialty shop. The dish was appropriately oily, and somehow, defying logic, the individual grains stuck together in spite of this coating. Honestly though, I don't know how to evaluate fried rice objectively. It's something that's pretty hard for even amateurs to screw up, so I doubt the chefs at 鼎泰豐 will bust out an unsatisfactory dish. With that said, I finished it without complaints, so it was okay in my book... still overpriced.

5 comments:

Sherry said...

Oh! I was just in China last week and went to the 鼎泰豐 in Tianjin! I didn't have to pay so I didn't care how overpriced it was (and it was overpriced for sure!). The food was pretty good. I'd have to disagree with you on the soup dumplings though. They were a little underwhelming, IMO. Too tiny, to start with haha. And I wanted more soup! Plus I like the skin not so perfect looking... you know, a little wrinkled and acne'd, for lack of a better word. It was too perfect-looking to eat!

Nicholas said...

Sherry - I can understand where you're comin' from. They are super tiny, and the uniformity is scary. Not sure if they're any different when it comes to different branches (the HK location vs. the Taipei non-original spot all taste off to me), but I don't think they can pack any more soup into these...

AJ Hwang said...

I'd have to agree that they were picture perfect, though I had no complaints about the soup content. =) There was enough that it filled the spoon if I poked it open (which is a travesty but...poke it I did...)

P.S. How do rice grains manage to stick together despite being coated in oil? That's insane, lolx!

James said...

I've never been to the Asian continent, but DTF's socal location seems to play a similar solid-but-overrated role. I actually like their pork chop fried rice and sauteed green beans (especially the green beans) more than anything else on the menu, XLB included. As far as acclaim goes... I'm for whatever gets people to try new things, especially if it's cooked well.

Ironically, people are so obsessed with brands and bests that they often latch onto those two words without actually considering food and experience. It's a phenomenon that exists beyond food, and it can be fucking annoying.

Nicholas said...

AJ Hwang - dunno, that's why it's awesome :)

James - The expectations lofted by their name/image are so unreal that there's absolutely NO way that their food matches up to that. I love their xlb, but obviously their reputation far exceeds the actuality. This brings up the question of why people still consider them the gold standard for soup dumplings, and it has to come down to the general obsession with, like you said, brands and bests (see Momofuku in NYC). This is actually really sad to see, since people get disappointed by something that is actually really well prepared, and also because the problem is perpetuated continuously by nimwits who think it's cool to drop a name. It's kind of a paradox if you think about it, I'm just doing a shitacular job explaining what I mean.

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